Poetry Out Loud

Last night I took part in a virtual open mic night hosted by performance poet, blogger and generally creative mother, Stephanie Arsoska. The thought behind it was that as Poets with Children we don’t really get much of an opportunity to go out to actual open mic nights to perform our work – but in this time of virtual everything, why should that mean we have to miss out? So there were five of us: Stephanie in Scotland against a professional-looking white wall, sipping a glass of something exciting; Ellie in a bathroom in Poland among her mother’s washing; Helen, surrounded by coves and candles, also in Scotland and also with wine (Scotland is the place to be, clearly); Annie in a comfortable looking chair, who almost didn’t make it due to technical hitches and me, with unwashed hair, eating curry. And so we read poetry, not sure if anyone was watching, but having a lovely time listening to each other and discussing whether poetry needs to be spoken, or read, or both.

I read my poem about my daughter’s first word and one about a sweltering night with wakeful baby. I also read a previously unseen poem, written at a time when it looked like I might never be a Poet with Children. Here it is:


I set a bush on fire
I spoke to it at length
but there was no staff
No quest or commission

Just my lame
stumbling tongue.

I built a ladder to the sky
and lay down at the bottom rung
but there were no angels
travelling serenely up and down

Just a cold, hard stone
for a pillow.

I stood in a river, hip deep,
but you would not wrestle.
I locked myself in prison cells
I tore curtains, released doves.

I left the door ajar
just wide enough for an angel

but there was no child.

Just a voice that told me
that You Are
Always, forever, everywhere,
burning, flaming, shining.

You stripped me bare
till there was nothing but glory.
So here I stand – unique
and highly favoured,
beautiful and loved.

I will listen.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2009


PS For anyone who was watching last night, the poem “Easter Wings” that I referred to is by George Herbert.


I help you, Mummy

It was my friend’s son who defined for me exactly what it means to be three years old. One day when I was babysitting, he pushed a big dining chair up to the man-high toy cupboard, climbed up onto the chair and started pulling a heavy box out that was above his head. When I stopped him and suggested that perhaps I had better do that, he replied indignantly: “But I’m three!

As my own son’s third birthday is mere weeks away I can see this emerging in him.

He has a little child-sized chair that has become his ticket to independence. He has discovered, for instance, that rather than asking for snacks and risking the request being denied, it is much more effective to get them from the cupboard yourself with the help of the chair and then asking permission afterwards with your mouth full of raisins.

The chair also means he can reach the sink to wash his hands, fill up his watering can and get stuck into the washing up. I have had to add some more Code Red sounds to my parenting by sound handbook, such as the clink of glasses in the sink followed by “I really careful, Mummy!”

Any time I go into the kitchen now, I find the Boy at my elbow looking to see what’s going down and saying “I help you, Mummy?” Cooking dinner, washing up, hoovering, baking cakes – you name it, he wants to be involved. In fact, he’d really rather I just let him get on with it without interfering. If I try to do stirring, or stand in front of the sink where he wants to put his chair, he screeches “No! My do it!”

Although it can get a little irritating when you’re in a hurry or doing something involving sharp knives and hot stoves, he is really very endearing and often genuinely helpful. What a wonderful age, when you can make their day by letting them fetch and carry for you and the highlight of their week is handing you pegs when you are hanging out the washing in the garden.

But his favourite thing to help with is the barbecue.

Every morning this summer, the Boy has greeted his Daddy with the words: “Daddy, make a barbecue?” When, not immediately for breakfast perhaps, but later in the day, the answer is yes, Daddy’s little helper is right there, reverently handing Daddy ‘stones’ (charcoal) to build the fire and handing him a Tupperware lid so he can ‘flap-a barbecue’.

“Careful Daddy!” he warns helpfully. “Is really hot! Stand back!”

From the moment it is lit, the Boy wants to know if we can have barbecue-food. We keep him busy by giving him items to put on the garden table, one fork at a time to stretch it out.Then finally the sausages are ready and on his plate. The Boy, however, is dancing around the garden and cannot be persuaded to sit down and eat.

“But it’s barbecue food! Look, sausages!” we exclaim, incredulous.

He gets tearful as we insist he sits down, and finally he explains: “Want-a more things carry.”

Turns out it’s not really the food he loves so much. It’s the helping.

Sun, sea and Numberjacks

This was the first time we’d been on a proper holiday abroad for two years. Those two years obviously made a massive difference to how The Boy experienced the adventure. He joined in the anticipation, for one, and in the days leading up to our departure would ask whether we were going to the seaside today and whether his fire engine (his Trunki ride on suitcase) could come. He also picked up on our destination. On the plane he kept repeating, his eyes wide with wonder:  “Going-a Spain.” The Girl was less impressed with the flight, and screamed non-stop during the second hour, finally falling into an exhausted slumber as we landed and had to get off.

We arrived at the apartment late at night, the kids asleep in the car. We carried them straight up to bed. The next morning, I greeted the Boy with: “You’re in Spain!” For the rest of the week, he was convinced that ‘Spain’ was the apartment and would ask to go “back to Spain” when he’d had enough of a trip to the supermarket or an outing that didn’t include enough snacks. We tried explaining that Spain was a country, just like England or The Netherlands, and that the supermarket, the beach and the park were all in Spain too, but to no avail. By the end of the trip we just went along with it, wearily confirming that yes, there were ice creams back in Spain and he could have one once we got there.

He was initially a bit disappointed that there was no television in Spain, but being a resourceful little chap, he had soon rectified this by commissioning me to make all the Numberjacks, their enemies and accessories out of paper and acting out episodes with them endlessly; assigning all the toy cars we’d brought identities from Roary the Racing Car; designating the plants on the balcony as The Veggies from Mr Bloom and casting his two Duplo polar bears (the one in the plane and the one in the car) in the roles of Splish and Splash from Iconicles (or Icono-barnacles, as he insists the program is called). This kept him occupied for hours. There were even some interesting mash ups, like when Roary crashed and the Numberjacks came to rescue him with some brain gain.

There were also plenty of amazing fun things to do outdoors. Going to the beach quickly became number one favourite, even warranting a little song: “Going-a beach is fuuuuuun!” Building sandcastles, digging holes, sunbathing next to mummy and washing hands at the special fountain were instant hits. The sea took some getting used to. He wanted to keep a safe distance at first and was very worried that the waves would come and get us, but slowly he and the sea made friends and he was happy to play by the water’s edge, writing numbers in the sand.

Meanwhile, the Girl practised walking, played with her brother’s toys, fell over and hurt herself, got lots of cuddles, learned to say “uh oh” but not when to say it other than to get a laugh from the rest of the family, played in the sand for ages and spent a lot of the nights awake. Goodness knows why, but she’s a baby and doesn’t need a reason.

The flight back was in the middle of the night. The Boy had doggedly stayed awake during the 45 minute car ride to the airport, saying “bye bye” to all the cars we passed, and was still awake when we took off. Finally, around midnight, he dropped off, his head resting on Daddy’s arm, just as the Girl woke from a blissful slumber. She spent the flight charming all the other passengers with beaming smiles.

We arrived home in the dead of night and put the Girl straight to bed. The Boy was not having it. He was far too excited to be home. He greeted the cats with great delight and then wanted to dive into his favourite activities. “Watch Chloe’s Closet,” he insisted. “Watch Numberjacks?” When TV turned out not to be an option, he found his paper Numberjacks again and had to be dragged away from them with hissed threats and bribes to stop him screaming the house down and waking his sister and the lodger.

Spain was great, but clearly, nothing beats S house.

Drawing in Spain

Drawing in Spain

The Boy speaks

A little collection of what the Boy has to say for himself. He is still speaking a lot of Dinglish – I had thought it might be sorting itself out by now, but instead it almost seems to be getting worse. As he picks up more of each language, he mashes them up more. He is also still using his “filler”-syllable, “ne”. Any part of a sentence or word he is not sure of he will fill up with “enenene”.

The Boy plays out a disturbing little scene with his breakfast items.

“Don’t be scared, sap [juice]. Enenene zorgen [I’ll take care of you]. Don’t run away.
Kiwi really scared enenene sap. Sap really sad.
Don’t be scared, apple. Don’t be scared a snijden snijden snijden [cutting cutting cutting].”

I am reading a book. The Boy takes it from me.

Boy: “Is mama’s book.”

Me: “Actually, it’s Daddy’s book. Mummy has borrowed it.”
Boy (nodding sagely): “That’s papa’s book, called ‘Papa’s Magic’. Heel veel letters [lots of letters].”

I take out a notebook to write down what he is saying. He notices: “You drawing. I’m enene reading a book. Aha! That’s the page.”

He hugs his little sister and says: “Love you.”

Compliments: He notices the Girl, puts an arm around her and says: “Beautiful baby. Got a hair and a smiley face. Blije [happy] baby.” Similarly, I was changing his nappy one day and he was gazing up at me. Then he said: “Really mooie [pretty] mama. Got some eyes, and a smiley mouth. And a red t-shirt. And trousers, and a that one [forehead] and hair and a neck.”

He loves helping in the kitchen. We are making cakes and I let him put the butter dish in the microwave to be zapped. He places it in and says “I’m really careful.” Then I give him a spoon to stir the mixture with. “I’m goed in roeren [good at stirring]”, he compliments himself.

His banana falls on the floor. “Want a nieuwe banaan!” he wails in Dinglish.

He picks up lots of phrases from TV shows or from the people around him and applies them to his own life, startling us all.

“That’s a fun filled festival!” he exclaims.

Or he invites me on a “rip roaring pirate ‘venture.”

The Girl wants to join in his game. “Noooooo!” he screeches, “Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin!”

“It’s a tough day,” he says with a happy grin.

“I go get it,” he explains to me. “You stay here.”

Finally, my favourite moment. I put him to bed for a nap, but have to come back up after ten minutes because all I can hear over the baby monitor is crashing, banging, jumping and shouting “Walk the plank! Walk the plank!” I tuck him up again, set the lullabies going. He wriggles and giggles in bed. In my calmest, most soothing tone of voice I say: “Now, you are going to have a lovely sleep.”

He responds in the most patronising tone: “Yeeeeeees Mummy.”

Dinglish is still going strong, but I think nap time might be a thing of the past.

Where are the cuddles of yesteryear?

Hello Interworld,

I’m not usually much of a talker. Human 2 jokes it is because I feel embarrassed about my effeminate meow, but really it’s because I’m such a hard-ass that I don’t need to talk. I just glare, and that says enough. Yeah.


I find myself here, in the Wendy house in the garden on a Saturday, thinking.

The humans are gone and have employed a minion to put out food for us. Like that is all we are to them. Supplicants in need of food. Let me tell you something, Humans. I can catch my own food. You know that severed pigeon wing by the french windows? Yeah, that was me. I ate the rest of the bird. Thought I’d leave you the crunchy bit as a treat. Not my fault if you don’t appreciate the delicacy. And you know all those tiny mice by the back door? Yep, me again. I can catch bigger ones, but thought I’d start you on the small ones to see if you like them, like a taster. Why did you shudder and chuck them in the bin? Ingrates.

My point is (it got a bit lost – this is also why I don’t talk/write much) that I don’t hang around here for the food. To be honest – sorry to have to break this to you – your food is a bit crap. Just because it says “with fish” on the box, doesn’t mean those dry pellets taste in any way like the raw, salty, slithery deliciousness that is an actual fish. You’d know if you bothered to taste the things yourself. At least Tiny Human is prepared to try our food and see if it is worthy of such amazingly wonderful creatures (that’s us, me and FatCat). She would let you know, too, except a) you always stop her before she can get to the bowls and b) she can’t speak your language yet.

So why do I stick around here? This is why:

ThinCat asleep

1. Your beds are comfy. Comfier than this plastic house you have put up in the garden (why? it is small, there are no soft furnishings and the tap doesn’t work, have you noticed?)

DSCF43862. At night, when you sleep, we use your laptop to surf the Internetz and charge our iPhones.

IMG_09283. Snuggly duck. Don’t need to say any more, I think.

cat hug4. But really, above all else, this is why. This is why we decided to stay. You made me feel safe again. You gave me a home. Now you are always holding Tiny Human. Why procreate? The world doesn’t need more humans, you are already taking up far too much space and you’re overcooking all the fish.

If you are a human reading this, and you are considering procreation, don’t. Just go home and hug your cat. See picture for the correct technique.

I will press publish now and hope that Human 2 sees this when she gets home and feels VERY GUILTY and put Tiny Human in her tiny cage and gives me lots of cuddles. There, I’ve said it.

hugs & kisses,


Guest Poem: Trebarwith Strands

Remember Skeletons at Midnight? It was for my multi-talented friend Anita, whose wonderful poetry inspired me to write my own. As I am offline for a bit while on holiday, she has very kindly provided a guest poem which she wrote in answer to Stay at Home. Enjoy!

Trebarwith Strands

I pack myself away
As I turn off
My phone.
Then, spilling out into field and sky.
We unstitch,
We undo.

The sea salt air
Whispers between us,
Cleans us,
Of the arguments that live
In houses.

An illness, mild and barely there,
Anchors us to canvas, in place.
We hear the wind, we see the moon
We talk of the wind, and we talk of the moon.

The tight threads of us unravel.
Our strands, loose, in the wind,
Weave new patterns between us.

In the day, the boys grow, faster.
They run and run, until there is no
More field.
Then sit, precariously, on gates
And talk to cows.
In the evening, they wonder at
Clouds, spread with a knife across
Blazing skies.

The sea salt waves
Wash between us,
Freeing us,
From the time that lives
In houses.

Illness keeps us small;
We take idle walks.
We make tiny trips.
We keep little company.
We make miniature meals of fudge and cream.

For a whole week I am lost.
There is no signal here,
No way to be found,
No fragments to update.
I forward roll, I play bat and ball,
I sit and watch the boys play.
I see them,
Their strands, loose in the wind,
Weaving new patterns.

At night, I listen
As the wind, gently,
Tugs at the threads of the tent.
My strands unravel, but
I am not lost.
Just re-connected.

Anita is a freelance artist/writer/mum/tutor depending what day/time/event it is. She lives a precarious life trying to balance all of them, but still finds time to sell things on eBay to fund her handbag addiction collection. www.anitawadsworth.co.uk

Housework: The Kingston Way

For me, the moment that summed up my approach to housework was at a regular weekly meet-up at our house. One of our friends came in, noticed the stairs and said: “Oh wow, new carpet?”

“No,” I said. “I hoovered.”

I had some vague hopes of instilling more of a work ethic and perhaps even some house-proud-ness in our kids, but when I saw our Boy (then about 20 months) spill some milk on the floor, stop to contemplate the drops, rub them out with his foot and continue walking, I realised that they were just going to follow in the family tradition. At not quite 2 years of age, the Boy was already well versed in The Kingston Way.

In case you are looking for a housework avoidance system, I will sketch out the basic rules and principles:

1. Keep things out in case you need them again.
No point tucking them away in boxes and bookcases, most things you use or bring into the house will be needed again within ooh at least a month. Put them in plain view, like say on the dining table, so you can find them again easily – that is, until the next person comes home and puts their important papers and bags of stuff on top. Same with toys. You are never quite finished playing with toys. Just leave them out, ready for next time.


All things we will definitely need at a moment’s notice

2. At all cost, avoid bending over.
It’s not good for your health. If something falls on the floor, just take a moment to say goodbye and leave it. The kids or the cats will get it eventually.

3. Quick fixes are better than long term solutions.
When you tidy, it’s probably because someone is coming to visit. No time to find permanent homes for all those objects in random places – just find different random places – preferably somewhere the guest is unlikely to come.

There. Tidied away.

There. Tidied away.

4. Designate a Bluebeard room.
Just in case you haven’t come across this folk tale: Bluebeard had a room in his house that was always locked and warned his young wife never to open it. But curiosity got the better of her and she looked anyway – tumbling out came the corpses of Bluebeard’s previous wives. If you determine to adopt The Kingston Way, it is essential to give one room in your house up completely to mess. This is where you shove all the junk from the other rooms of the house when tidying in a hurry. Make sure it has a door that shuts. Preferably, a door that locks. It is also acceptable to hide away unpresentable family members in this same room (with snacks to bribe them to stay quiet).

5. Appearance is everything.
Nobody (except perhaps my Dad) is going to check under the microwave or behind the toaster. Just clean the surfaces/bits of floor people can see at a cursory glance. Leave the rest for when you move out of your house and the absent furniture reveals entire civilisations of spiders and other mini beasts who have made a vast metropolis out of missing toys and mouldy bits of bread.

6. If you leave something for long enough, it becomes interior design.
After a while, you just don’t notice the stains on the kitchen wall or the batteries in the decorative bowl anymore. The wires in the corner are mess for a while, but then they become Modern Art.

Beautiful. And so original. You too can make a wire feature for your living room!

Beautiful. And so original. You too can make a wire feature for your living room!

Congratulations! You have now been fully inducted into The Kingston Way. Following these simple rules should ensure a minimum amount of housework-related stress in your life, allowing you to spend the time on things that really matter, like the Internet.

One year (almost) gone

A few more weeks and the Girl will be one. She is working hard on learning to walk, is climbing on top of everything and I am sure that by the time her birthday rolls around she will be looking at baby-hood in the rear view mirror as she speeds on towards toddler-hood and from there to world domination.

Contemplating her next move

Contemplating her next move

One year gone

First summer closing, streets returning
from languor-filled summer spaces
to the frantic thorough-fare
that busy generations share
now with hopeful hearts and faces
new start, new dawn, new time of learning

First summer gone and the world is turning
from sunshine lingering and delaying
sharing evenings with the moon
back to early bedtime soon
chill on the wind and colours greying
so nature keeps on turning and returning

Your first summer gone and you are learning
to stand, speak, walk, never slowing,
expert now, you’ve seen it all
one year gone, now back to fall
I mustn’t, cannot, stop you growing
As you run on, never turning or returning

Me and my girl

Me and my girl

Read more poetry and prose over at Prose for Thought, hosted by Victoria Welton.